Joe LeBlanc, the Conference Chair and founder of the Butch Voices Conference August 20-23, 2009, told me about the conference almost a year ago and I loved the idea. Watching it develop since October has been really incredible. What began as the germ of an idea has become something really big and amazing. If you can road trip or take a last-minute change of plans and go to this conference you absolutely MUST. The Femme Conference changed my life--I can only imagine how incredible Butch Voices will be.
Early in March I had the opportunity to attend two gigs with Heels on Wheels at a couple of colleges in the Northeast. I have known about HOW since its inception, mostly because two of my besties (Heather Acs and Damien Luxe) conceived it. Much like the Sister Spit tour, I always wonder what it would be like to “get in the van” and bring my work around. I’m lucky that part of my income comes from going to colleges to do workshops and performances, so I get a bit of that, but never in the big group. Getting to do those two gigs was a little taste of the road-trip-meets-art-adventure without ever having to forsake a shower because there were too many people and too few showers available in too little time (the greatest road show complaint I hear from everyone who goes on any tour).
Ever relentlessly documenting my life, I made a little photo essay of our trip to Hampshire College to present a workshop on confidence (Femmepowerment–from the stage to the street) and perform as the evening entertainment for the Five Colleges Queer Conference. I had a really great time and it was an honor to be in such extraordinary company for our 16 hour adventure.
There was the HOW Production team, Heather and Damien. The HOW touring artists, DJ Shomi Noise and Lixznn Disaster. The folks on the East Coast leg of the tour (me and Kirya Traber). The photographer for the day, Nicole, and the amazing Cristy Road, catching a ride with Heels on Wheels to go to her own workshops/readings.
I learned early on that Lizxnn drives the van like a boss. Seriously, not at all intimidated by the size and power of that huge van, as we rolled over curbs as needed and got where we needed to go (Northampton, MA) safely.
The van was a pretty amazing experience. Imagine how wonderful, inspirational and loud it is to be surrounded by chatty Femmes. It is the most at home I ever feel. When my too much is exactly as much as everyone else’s. We learned that all of us had been raised with working class single moms. We had a spontaneous performance art moment where those of us who had no dad were told by those who had bad dads all the things we wished we’d heard growing up.
“You’re so pretty exactly as you are.”
“Here, let me show you how to build a bookshelf.”
“I support you growing up to be a working artist.”
“I love you unconditionally, no matter what.”
(As an aside, it’s really powerful work to reparent yourself as an adult when you learn what unconditional love can look like.)
We decided we were going to perform that at “Fuck You Dad,” Damien’s annual father’s day/birthday party performance show.
Shomi did some casual community organizing from her wifi hot spot on her phone.
As a former drag king troupe producer, I am familiar with traveling with a group of folks and creating itineraries. We were given explicit timing instructions of when we would leave and could expect to return. We knew it would be a long day. Our lunch stop ended up being a dunkin donuts in the middle of who-knows-where Massachusetts because of timing.
They were pretty amused with us flowing in and out, getting breakfast sandwiches and using the bathrooms in turn. There was a delightful little flier on the counter.
We also went through the workshop we were going to give that day, confirming who would do what. It was great to get to create with those amazing minds. It was also just so incredible to roll up to the various pit stops we made with this group of Femmes nine deep. Being a weirdo out in the world is pretty usual for me, but being a weirdo with other weirdos is a spectacle is empowering beyond words. That’s Femme visibility.
This is a laminated copy of the hanky code I got from an ex lover that I gave to Damien for her van warming party in 2010 and now hangs in the van. The ex lover was a Butch Virgo, if that explains the lamination and lengthiness of the code.
There was considerably less gear than we would have had if the tour was for more than a 16 hour trip with no overnight.
We stopped at this crazy natural foods store in Northampton (?) that had more fruit and Easter candy than I expected to see.
After snacks we got into the conference and set up for our workshop.
I always like to give folks the option to follow us on the internet, so I created this intensely detailed situation on the white board during our workshop.
At the beginning of the workshop we each told a two minute story of our journey to self confidence. I like to begin my workshops and performances at colleges telling people how glad and grateful I am to do this work. I explain that when I was in college if I had access to seeing a queer fat femme teach me about self-confidence (or, let’s be honest, just seeing a queer fat femme) it would have changed my entire life.
After the workshop we made our way over to this barn where there would be the Heels on Wheels performance and a QUEER PROM.
We spent some time backstage eating dinner and getting ready. Heather and I did some yoga stretching where the financial aid office is. No doubt, where a lot of stressed out students line up every semester like I once did. I tried to invoke some healing and patience energy to those students.
Being a performer means that the term “backstage” is a loose idea that includes kitchens, storage rooms, alleys behind bars, bathrooms, a sheet tacked up to the ceiling bisecting a part of the room that is the performance space and many, many other weird permutations.
The merch mall. Buying merch at shows is a fabulous way to support touring artists. I’m super stoked to wear my new purple v-neck Heels on Wheels shirt.
It’s impossible to summarize the work presented by the HOW artists that night, but here’s my attempt to give you the diaspora. Heather did her performance “This is What We Have,” about adventures, freedom, longing and stardust. Damien did her piece “Exorcise” a comedic act about a process for embodiment from trauma. It’s very empowering. Shomi did some singing and storytelling about immigrant adolescence and coming out. And Kirya did this incredible piece using Beyonce moves about growing up, gender and body hair. My piece is about what it is like to spend 34 years in a body bigger than what society deems “average,” and I think it’s a good piece for college shows because it’s very body oppression 101, personal and empowering.
After the show we hung out listening to DJ Shomi Noise DJing. We went out to the van for a brief hang out and imagined that we were sailing through the air in the van with Cristy Road’s image of the night sky floating by us.
Matteo made this bling himself! I was so excited about it.
We arrived home at 5:30 in the morning. Getting a little lost in some giant state park and only had to stop once so someone could pee behind a car.
After our adventure to Hampshire and New Paltz, the part of the tour that was going to the West Coast (Heather, Damien, Shomi and Lizxnn) went from LA up to Vancouver and back down again. Sorry to anyone who saw me on the posters and thought I was going to be out there! I got a lot of emails from people thinking I was in town. It made me seriously consider my own tour of the West Coast. I’m happy to do it if anyone wants to help me book a couple of college gigs!
The Heels on Wheels had a rough time out there, to say the least. Read here about the trauma they experienced while in Olympia.
I can’t tell you how much love I have in my heart for all of the artists involved with Heels on Wheels. They mean so much to me personally and as a queer femme in the world.
Heels on Wheels is an amazing organization that is working-class lead, feminist and femme empowering. HOW is fundraising through Indigogo to create sustainability for the organization and to support future work by the organization. You can give for the next eight days through this link. You can also get a bunch of really sweet prizes, but contributing to Femme magic, like the road trip I just described above, is also prize enough.
Here are a bunch of artists from the Brooklyn homecoming show. It’s such an honor to perform with HOW.